When I attended my first meeting of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), I thought I was there because I was a sex addict. My online activities had led to the end of my marriage, and my subsequent obsession with online dating websites had given me so many easy options that I was unable to give them up when I started a relationship with someone for whom I cared very deeply. This resulted in leading a double life: carrying on a committed relationship while cruising dating sites, exchanging emails with people and sometimes meeting them—all while I was laying the groundwork for a relationship that, in my deluded state, I actually thought was going somewhere. One thing led to another—the truth will always out, as the saying goes—and my new love interest found out about my ongoing dating site activity. I realized I had a problem and soon found SLAA so that I could address my sex addiction. As I sat in my SLAA meetings, however, I realized that it wasn’t about sex—it was about much, much more: sex was a symptom of my underlying issues, which, I realized, had more to do with love and relationship addiction, and therefore with intimacy, than they did with pursuing sex and sexual acting out.
Finding Common Ground in SLAA
One of the best things about attending recovery meetings is listening to other members share their stories. Many people working through addiction issues feel very alone, as if they’re the only person on Earth wrestling with the various challenges they’re facing. When they enter recovery and find a meeting and a fellowship, they suddenly realize they’re not alone—the stories they hear, though not identical to their own, ring strikingly true, and oftentimes the emotions expressed by their recovery friends are almost a perfect match to theirs. This was especially true for me and my early SLAA meetings. Though I had previous experience with AA and NA and found common ground with the members of those fellowships, the stories I heard in SLAA somehow cut more deeply; since they touched on aspects of my emotional life that I’d kept deeply hidden for so long, I barely knew myself that they were there at all. Two things I learned early on have been crucial to my recovery: 1) It’s possible to act out, i.e. display unhealthy behaviors, even in the broader context of a healthy relationship, and 2) My issues with sex addiction were far more about addiction to love and approval than I initially realized or wanted to admit. During one meeting, while listening to a member of the fellowship share a story related to her approval addiction, I flashed back to a relationship I’d had almost two decades earlier in my mid-20s. It was a positive and healthy relationship, overall, but there was a pattern embedded in that relationship that I realized, as I sat in that meeting 20 years later, was an early sign of the issues that led to my full-blown sex and love addiction.
Here’s the story: my girlfriend and I worked in the same place. My day usually ended about two hours earlier than hers, and on my way out I’d stop by her office to chat. Sometimes we’d make plans to hang out later that afternoon and sometimes we wouldn’t. Quite often it would be a wait-and-see situation—if she finished up her work on time, she’d drop by on her way home and we’d hang out. If her work went late, she would just need to head home and get dinner—either way, most of the time we agreed she’d give me a call when she figured out how her afternoon/evening was shaping up. So I would go home and do my thing for a while, but before long a negative pattern would start: I’d look at my watch every five minutes, waiting for her to call. Soon, I’d get a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach and I’d get angry: why wasn’t she calling? Where was she? What was she doing? More time would pass and I’d get even more agitated. How could she leave me hanging like this? Doesn’t she know I’m just sitting here waiting for her to call? I would work myself into such a state that my heart would pound and my palms would sweat. The she would call and say something like, “I’m on my way over! I’ve been swamped and just finished up” or “Oh my God, I’m still here, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to make it this afternoon.”
What I realized, looking back on those afternoons through the lens of love and approval addiction, was that it was all in my head and it had nothing to do with her: she wasn’t doing anything to me; she was just doing exactly what she said she was going to do—wait and see how the afternoon panned out and then give me a call when she knew what was up. My agitation, anger and fear had everything to do with issues related to my personal emotional history—issues that eventually led to alcohol, substance, love and sex addiction—and were completely unrelated to what was happening in the moment with her. What was happening in those moments with her was simple: she was doing her thing, just like she said, no more, no less, and I was doing mine. No big deal.
The Healing Path
That relationship was healthy, for the most part. I never told her how upset I got during those afternoons. I would just put it all aside and continue as if nothing had happened—in other words, I just played it cool. I never realized what was happening; I never realized I was internally recapitulating past traumas. I just put it in a little box and moved on. Now, as I attend meetings and walk the road to recovery, I’m able to see things with clarity—not all the time, of course; I’m not nearly perfect! But without the fellowship of SLAA, without listening to people tell their stories and discuss their issues with love and approval addiction, I never would have realized that my issues weren’t just with sex: they were fundamentally intertwined with love and approval issues. I also understand how complex people are and how complex I am. As I move forward, I won’t expect my relationships to be free of my issues, but I will learn to handle them without the emotional rollercoasters I used to ride on those afternoons I spent waiting by the phone so many years ago.
By: Angus Whyte